Difficult questions about life and death
Compass: Every Parent’s Nightmare 9.30pm, ABC
SECULAR viewers of this heartwrenching documentary about loss and grief may wonder at first why the mother of a young woman killed in the July 2005 terrorist bombings in London would feel compelled to explain why she cannot forgive the perpetrators. The twist is that the mother of Jennifer Nicholson, Julie, is an Anglican priest.
Julie, with all her anguish etched into her fiftysomething face, is a terrier. She has her teeth in the intractable problem of why her faith doesn’t yield some peace and although she may be out of answers, at least for the time being, she isn’t planning to let go until she undertakes a survey that may give her more ideas.
Jennifer was 24 when she died in a tunnel near Edgware Road station in London’s Underground. She was, her mother recalls, ‘‘ on the cusp of life’’ and the early footage in this program demonstrates that fully, with video clips of a laughing, lively girl. She was one of 52 people who died that day.
Julie seeks out and interviews other parents who have faced terrible sorrow, including Rosie Wilson, caring for her young daughter Daisy, who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, learning difficulties, cannot speak and needs 24- hour care. Another, Alan, lost his adult daughter Charlotte in Thailand in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
Julie is resolute in her determination to pose hard questions to them all and mines a gem from each. Alan concludes Charlotte was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He found no answers in Christianity but, possibly because of the Thai connection, has felt drawn to Buddhism. He has planted a garden in the local Buddhist monastery where he goes to sit. He prefers to imagine his daughter in some other dimension than to think she ‘‘ is no more’’.
Rosie recognises that living with Daisy’s disability involves a ‘‘ curious kind of grieving’’ for the child ‘‘ she might have been’’ but is unequivocal about the richness of life lived with her, just as she is. ‘‘ I know Daisy is our bit of God,’’ Rosie says. ‘‘ Whatever God is, it’s in Daisy.’’ All the interviews are powerful, but this is the one that leaves the priest who has seen everything wide- eyed with wonder.
As the program progresses, suspicion eases that this is somehow a perverse self- indulgence for a mother who has found a way to prolong her daughter’s presence through reliving and obsessing about her loss. It adds up to something worthwhile.
Julie has resigned as vicar of St Aidan’s in Bristol. She is working with young people, drawn to the same qualities she adored in her daughter: vitality and passion.
Finding something worthwhile in her loss: Julie Nicholson